Has your love life gone from satisfying to physically painful sex?
Do you have a chronically dry vagina? Do you have more frequent urinary tract infections?
If these sound too familiar, you may have signs of vaginal atrophy.
When most women hear of vaginal atrophy, they think of something that occurs after menopause. However, it can occur in younger women when there is a reduction in estrogen levels.
Vaginal atrophy can cause symptoms such as a dry vagina and painful intercourse.
“Vaginal atrophy is most commonly seen in post-menopausal women, but those who are breastfeeding and have just had a baby may have issues due to a drop in estrogen levels,” said Dr. Sonya Williams.
“Vaginal atrophy can also occur if you’ve had your ovaries removed or if you’re taking certain medications for breast cancer treatment or endometriosis.”
What is Vaginal Atrophy and How Does it Cause Painful Sex?
Estrogen helps keep your vaginal tissues healthy. When your estrogen levels drop, it changes the way your vagina works.
Atrophy occurs over time as your vaginal lining begins to shrink and thin. Your vagina isn’t able to stretch as it once did, and the vaginal wall may also shorten and become more narrow. (Cleveland Clinic)
Vaginal atrophy is usually diagnosed by reviewing your symptoms and evaluating the results of a pelvic exam.
Vaginal atrophy can also cause painful intercourse, which is also called dyspareunia. More women experience painful sex than you may realize, and it’s a condition that is often treatable.
If intercourse is uncomfortable for you, we encourage you to contact us for an appointment.
A Dry Vagina is a Symptom of Vaginal Atrophy
Dryness is only one of the bothersome symptoms. Others include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Spotting or bleeding
- Light bleeding after sex
Are There Any Complications From Vaginal Atrophy?
Atrophy doesn’t just affect your vagina. It can cause problems when you go to the bathroom, leading to frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). You might also have to go to the bathroom more often, and have pain when you urinate.
Those with atrophy are also more likely to have vaginal inflammation.
How is Vaginal Atrophy Treated?
Until your estrogen levels return to a normal level, you’re likely to have the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
There are different types of treatment: some concentrate on alleviating the symptoms of vaginal atrophy, while others raise your estrogen level to restore your vagina to its healthier state.
Relieving symptoms can be as straightforward as using a vaginal moisturizer.
Water-based ones can help restore the vaginal pH. Some can even last from three to four days, which is helpful to those who have a chronically dry vagina.
You can also help alleviate painful sex by using a water-soluble vaginal lubricant.
In any form, low-dose vaginal estrogen can help by:
- Restoring the vaginal pH
- Increasing vaginal secretions
- Thickening vaginal tissue
Estrogen can be applied via a skin patch or a pill, but often, it’s most effective to apply it directly to the vagina in the form of a cream. There are also silicone rings or estrogen-containing tablets that are placed in the vagina that release a steady, low dose of estrogen.
We recognize that no single form of estrogen therapy works for everyone. We’ll look at your individual case and examine your symptoms, your lifestyle and your medical history to determine what would work best for you.
Vaginal Bleeding After Menopause is Not Normal
If you are experiencing bleeding after menopause, it’s important to schedule an appointment with us.
While this can be caused by vaginal atrophy, it can also be seen in many other conditions. Most of these are not life-threatening. However, bleeding after menopause can be an indicator of certain cancers.
What Are Other Causes of Painful Intercourse?
Every case of dyspareunia is different. For some women, vaginal injuries, usually due to tearing during childbirth, can cause problems. Others may have a congenital condition called vaginal agenesis, which means the vagina has not fully formed.
Painful sex can also be due to a condition called vaginismus, where the vaginal muscles spasm. While many women feel uncomfortable talking about this condition, it’s much more common than you may realize.
We don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed to talk to us about their health care problems, whether it’s painful intercourse or vaginal discharge. We became OBGYNs to help women live the healthiest life possible, and this includes your sexual health.
We are partners in your care. We encourage you to ask questions at your annual exam or any appointment you have with us.
Your Vagina: What’s Normal, What’s Not
It’s important to let us know if you have any change in the amount of vaginal discharge, or if it has a different color or odor. This could be an indicator of an infection.
Speak to one of our doctors if you have:
- Vaginal redness
- Vaginal pain
- A mass in your vagina
- Painful intercourse
- Urine leakage during coughing or sneezing
How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy
Your sexual health is an important aspect of your overall health. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can minimize your chances of getting a vaginal infection.
Practice safe sex
You should also be tested for sexually transmitted infections. Please be open and honest with us about your sex life, including the number of sexual partners you may have had. Our main interest is in safeguarding your health.
Have a Regular Exam
During these wellness visits, we’ll not only conduct a pelvic exam, but we’ll also speak to you about any other health concerns you have, whether it’s high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.
Understand Your Medications
Some of them may have side effects that could affect your vagina, such as making you more susceptible to yeast infections.
Perform Kegel Exercises
These exercises help tone your pelvic floor muscles and can be very useful, especially if you’ve experienced urine leakage.
Ready to Help You Through All Stages of Life
We’ve cared for mothers, daughters, and women of all ages. Through a highly personalized approach to medicine, we evaluate the most effective treatments to provide a medical plan tailored for your needs.
For many medical practices, those are just words. But for us, it’s a philosophy.
We love caring for our patients. We take time to learn their names and discuss their needs. We provide emotional and medical support for them no matter what age. Schedule an appointment to discover what makes us different.
For more than 40 years, Chapel Hill OBGYN has served women in the Triangle area, sharing the joy of little miracles and supporting them during challenges. Our board-certified physicians and certified nurse midwives bring together the personal experience and convenience of a private practice with the state-of-the-art resources found at larger organizations. To schedule an appointment, please contact us for more information.